Techniques of intersection - The mediation of metrics in digital research
Carolin Gerlitz (University of Amsterdam)
Paper short abstract:
Paper long abstract:
Social media platforms are characterized by the sheer volume of activity and data, whilst at the same time only offering very limited access possibilities. When studying Facebook or Twitter, questions and techniques of delimitation, i.e. the selection of subsets and the use of specific metrics, are particularly relevant. Whilst sampling and intersection techniques have been thoroughly discussed in the context of social science research, in the context of social media analysis they are far from being fully understood. This paper sets out to study the politics of cuts and connections as mediated through metrics in Twitter research. Social media metrics are often based on material-technical platform features, such as hashtags, retweets, or @replies among others, which also organize user activities and cater to a variety of actors and use practices. Metrics, we suggest, need to be seen as epistemic devices that engage in breaking the practices sprawling on social media platforms apart and put them together again in various ways. Our objective is to reflect on the mediating capacities of different metrics in Twitter research and how they enable various methodological approaches to bring into relation medium-specific objects and activities. Methodologically, the paper draws on a random one percent sample of tweets collected over a period of several weeks and explores how both traditional and emergent metrics operate as connectors or separators. Doing so, samples and metrics are not only used to mediate boundaries, but to explore their making and to elicit a critical reflection on methodological techniques of intersection.
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